WEST VALLEY, UT, USA U.S. Army SSG, BATTERY B, 1ST BATTALION, 7TH FIELD ARTILLERY, LEDWARD BARRACKS, GM KADHIMIYAH, IRAQ 05/06/2007
It was never an intended estrangement. Time just seemed to pass so quickly after Chance Martinez left Utah for Germany. There, the soldier had fallen in love with a local girl. They married and began to raise a family. He was sent to war. Then he was sent again.
There was talk of visiting Utah, but it never amounted to more than that. And so one year turned into two, two into three, and so on. Eight years passed. Then, on Sunday afternoon – Mother’s Day, as it happened – Martinez finally came home.
Staff Sergeant Virgil Chance Martinez, a member of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, died March 6 during an attack in the Kadhimiyah district of Baghdad, Iraq.
Under a marbled sky at Salt Lake International Airport, the 33-year-old soldier’s remains were lifted from a small charter jet and carried to a waiting hearse. Jill Oliver sank into the arms of her other children as her son’s flag-draped casket passed.
“My baby,” the mother cried, stumbling forward to follow the hearse as it rolled away. “That’s my baby.”
But if Oliver’s tormented sobs marked the end of a story about how life can pull a family apart, they may also have signaled the beginning of a new story – about how death can bring a family together. Layer upon layer of relatives gathered Sunday in West Valley and then Sandy to share deep and long embraces, to tell stories and to share pain. Siblings and cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents – many prefixed in variations of “ex-,” “step-,” and “half-,” – came together for the sad reunion.
For some, decades had passed. In the middle of it all were Martinez’s wife and kids – all once virtual strangers to their Utah relatives. Marion Martinez, appearing overwhelmed with grief, quietly exchanged hugs and whispers of comfort with her newfound family.
It’s unclear how much Martinez’s youngest children – Isabella is 4, Tonyo is 2 – understood about the purpose of the gathering that welcomed them to Utah. But lifted time and again into the arms of strangers, the toddlers’ widening smiles seemed to indicate they understood they were among family.
Virgil’s friend, Dan Chavez, recalled spending time with Virgil when both were divorced. They agreed not to let life pass them by, but Martinez also knew what was important.
For him it was ‘work, party, work, party, wait, I’ve got my daughter today’ and when that happened, everything else stopped, said Chavez. He was definitely about being a dad and that was a priority to him.
Martinez graduated high school in 1992 and was on the ski team and played football. He was remembered as a Momma’s boy, the son who used his first paycheck when he was a teenager to buy a dozen roses for his mother, Rebecca Jill Oliver.
His sister, Kimberlee Austin-Oliver, said he once showed up at her apartment to supposedly use her bathroom and left a $100 bill taped to her mirror during a time when she had been in financial trouble.
He also is survived by his wife, Marion, and children, Anesia, Amanda, Daniel, Isabella, Tonyo.